The energy system will look very different in the future – and so too will the skills of the people working in the industry 

North Sea oil and gas have been at the heart of the UK’s energy and industrial strategy for more than 50 years, enabling the sector to establish both a wealth of expertise and a global reputation as a centre of excellence. 

People and their skills are at the core of the country’s economic success when it comes to oil and gas production, and are playing a key role in the transition from fossil fuels to greener energy.  

The North Sea Transition Deal emphasises the importance of building on the skills the sector has developed over decades to ensure it remains an energy powerhouse. The deal, agreed by the UK Government and the offshore oil and gas sector in 2021, promises to secure up to 40,000 energy jobs, reduce 60 metric tons (mt) of emissions, and introduce up to £16 billion of new investment for low-carbon technologies such as carbon capture, storage and hydrogen which are required to help get the UK to net zero.  Part of the deal comprised an Integrated People and Skills Strategy, published in May 2022. 

Offshore Energies UK (OEUK), representing an integrated offshore energy industry that’s safely providing cleaner fuel, power and products, leads the way in ensuring people can transfer their skills to offshore wind, carbon capture and storage and hydrogen. These skills are helping the sector drive reductions in oil and gas production emissions through using electricity to power offshore platforms. OEUK is working with organisations on initiatives to retain essential skills while encouraging new recruits to support the development of innovative technology to help the UK deliver net-zero emissions by 2050. 

Dr Alix Thom, OEUK workforce engagement and skills manager, says: “There’s a high level of transferability from oil and gas as a recent Robert Gordon University (RGU) report explained. People’s core technical skills don’t change; if you’re a mechanical engineer or technician, for example, in one sector you can do that in another.” 

Last month RGU published the Making the Switch – New Energy, New Jobs, New Era report focusing on the future shape of the offshore energy workforce in North East Scotland. It says if the region attracted £17 billion of renewables investment and activities over the next eight years, it could become a global energy hub, securing thousands of new jobs. 

Professor Paul de Leeuw, director of the Energy Transition Institute at RGU, said: “This review is an urgent call to action and highlights the size of the prize to create an exciting new energy future that will sustain and potentially grow the industry in the north-east of Scotland.” 

OEUK says many of its member companies, including operators Equinor, BP and Shell and major contractors, are transitioning to a low-carbon future. Several are pioneering projects to decarbonise industrial hubs in areas including Teesside, while others are progressing offshore wind projects including those in the recent ScotWind leasing round.  

Thom explains: “These new low-carbon energy systems are large, capital expenditure projects requiring long lead-in times. Over time, tens of thousands of jobs will emerge in areas including floating offshore wind, hydrogen production, carbon capture and storage plus electrification of offshore platforms. The challenge is to retain the invaluable oil and gas skills of our workforce. These will be needed for decades to come, providing the bedrock for developing new skills as other energy sectors grow.” 

Thom adds: “What is important is how we manage the transition, including getting clarity on timing. It’s not a choice between oil and gas or renewables, these are industries and skills that go hand in hand. We all need to be part of the mix, especially with security of energy supply top of the agenda.” 

John McDonald, CEO of skills body OPITO, which produced the Integrated People & Skills Strategy, says: “It’s very clear that our future energy system will look very different to what’s gone before, and balancing decarbonisation targets with energy security is a huge opportunity. To succeed, we must provide our people with the right skills, training, and support to thrive in the net zero era.” 

Thom concludes: “We’re offering a great opportunity for new entrants – both young people and those looking to change career – to be part of the energy solution.”